Physical education is a crucial component of school curriculums in the United States. Throughout the past year, the North Carolina Alliance for Health has worked on a campaign, with support from Voices for Healthy Kids, that aims to increase state accountability reporting around physical education and health programs by encouraging an amendment to the State Board of Education’s Healthy Active Children policy.
The North Carolina State Board of Education passed the Healthy Active Children policy in 2005. The policy outlines requirements for Local Education Agencies and schools regarding numerous aspects of student health, including physical education. It states that students enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade will participate in physical activity as part of a Local Education Agency’s physical education curriculum.
Research shows that active kids are more successful in the classroom. One study revealed kids were 20 percent more likely to earn an “A” in math or English when they are physically active at school. Physical activity also helps teachers create a more productive learning environment, as evidence shows that one physically active lesson creates a 21 percent decrease in teachers’ time managing behavior.
However, current standards vary from state to state, and many policies are broad, which leads to variation in local implementation. At the state level, 48 states have adopted some sort of legislation or guidance for physical education, but 31 states allow substitutions for physical education class time or credit, leaving unequal opportunities for physical activity depending on the school district
North Carolina Alliance for Health’s Every Student Succeeds Act campaign utilized a variety of tactics to enact change, including email action alerts, a press conference, letters to the editor, and op-eds. Ultimately, the campaign garnered support from key decision makers and advocates across the state, including the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, North Carolina Alliance of YMCAs, North Carolina Parent Teacher Association and more.
Dr. Sarah Armstrong, a pediatrician from Duke Health Center, wrote an op-ed expressing her support for physical education in North Carolina schools. “Physical inactivity has replaced smoking as the most common cause of preventable death in the United States,” Dr. Armstrong said.
In fact, diet-related chronic diseases, such as Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease, impact many families in North Carolina. The state is part of the “Stroke Belt,” an 11-state region of the United States where the risk of stroke is 34 percent higher for the general population than in other areas of the country. Physical education programs help teach children lifelong skills to keep them active and healthy and reduce their risk of developing preventable chronic diseases.
“The science tells us that even short bouts of activity, done in a high-quality way and delivered at a moderate to vigorous level, can have a tremendous impact on children’s health,” Dr. Armstrong explained. “It can reduce BMI [body mass index], reduce blood pressure, and can even reduce their cholesterol. So, physical education in schools really does matter.”
Artie Kamiya, chair of the North Caroline Alliance for Health’s Physical Education Workgroup, and Executive Director of the North Carolina Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Dance and Sport Management, supported the initiative by coordinating communication efforts for his organization’s members, who represent the 4,000-plus health and physical education teachers across the state. Kamiya explained that thanks to the support of decision makers, advocates and partners, “[t]he North Carolina General Assembly did see fit in pushing back pending legislation that would have had very serious and dramatic cuts to the existing levels of elementary physical education teachers.” For the first time, the state designated new funding to public school districts specifically for art, music and physical education teachers.
Looking forward, Kamiya says that “a more sustained effort needs to be established in order to maintain the positive changes made to date.” In particular, schools in low-income, rural communities are routinely underfunded and are the most likely to lack access to physical education. By addressing physical education standards, North Caroline Alliance for Health can increase the level of discourse about the need for physical education and work to address disparities in these communities.
Kamiya believed this campaign saw its greatest success in creating an urgent sense of the need to change. It encouraged the current North Carolina General Assembly to value physical education and see the need for enhanced policy change and increased fiscal support. The campaign has also paved the way for future opportunities to continue moving local decision makers to advocate for physical education programs in schools.
To learn more about this issue and how you can help mobilize a similar effort in your community, sign our petition or visit our physical education toolkit. Throughout our toolkit, you will find helpful information for building out your own advocacy efforts aimed at increasing access to the benefits of physical education programs in schools, including steps on building a campaign, resources and sample content, and stories of success in other communities.